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What does maintaining your membership in your professional association have to do with the well-being of your practice? I would say, plenty.

November 2, 2011  By Don Dillon RMT

What does maintaining your membership in your professional association have to do with the well-being of your practice? I would say, plenty.

You concentrate daily on the practice issues directly within your influence: the quality of your product/service; your pricing and promotion strategies; where and how you deliver your service; agreements and negotiations with suppliers; landlords and contractor practitioners; attracting and retaining business; paying the bills; and maintaining the records, etc. But your business is also subject to policies and circumstances that are outside of your direct control yet, nonetheless, affect and determine your practice success. Some jobs are just too big to handle individually, so business owners turn to professional associations to handle the extrinsic variables. Without a professional association to support you, your practice is subject to the consequences of unfair government health and taxation policy, insurance claim compensation caps, unfavourable public and media perception, controlling gatekeeper health disciplines, and profiteers and exploiters unabated by the checks and balances of an organized, resourceful professional association.

Short answer: leverage and resources.

Professional associations are service providers that advocate on behalf of their members’ interests for public and media relations, lobbying government and influencing insurance compensation, “bulk buying” of liability insurance and other services, maintaining relationships with other health disciplines – especially decision-maker gatekeeper professions – and responding to those that might exploit the profession. Members in turn pay membership dues to support these actions, and may volunteer for association committees to define strategy and move common objectives forward.


Boards of professional associations need to rapidly and frequently assess the needs of their members, plan ahead while responding to present circumstances and advocate to protect existing privileges, all the while remaining open to new opportunities and responding to new threats.

Specifically, professional associations provide:

  1. information;
  2. advocacy;
  3. public relations;
  4. expansion of work opportunities; and
  5. professional development.

Like any massage therapist, I need comprehensive coverage and analysis of breaking news that affects my practice. I want to know if auto insurers or workers compensation adjudicators are changing billing policies, what legislation and policy will affect my business, updates on the strategic plan and national developments. Professional associations use technology to connect their members and provide a forum for discussion.

Almost two decades ago, the association I belong to, Ontario Massage Therapist Association (OMTA), successfully lobbied to include massage therapy under the Regulated Health Professions Act. Over 100 professions applied; only 23 were granted. Massage therapy in Ontario would otherwise have ended up in unregulated land, denied the opportunity to work with rehab claims, extended health plans and other tangible benefits.

Since then, the OMTA (now the Registered Massage Therapists Association of Ontario) has lobbied worker’s compensation for a 300 per cent increase in service fee rates (the greatest allotted to any of the health professions), has attained inclusion in auto insurance claims, has responded to contentious issues with our regulatory body and has achieved a host of other advances only possible by means of an organized professional association acting on our behalf. The Canadian Massage Therapist Alliance is resurrecting, with a majority of provinces on track to move common initiatives forward. A national organization would bring even more power and effect to the advocacy, public relations and professional development efforts of its sister associations.

Resources are an issue here, and a professional association can only lobby to the extent of its membership dollars. For this reason alone, every professional should be a member of his/her professional association.

The perception of massage therapy in the public and media is concerning. With parodies of spa massage, sexualization of massage providers and services, escalating insurance fraud, and even common derogatory terms in economics, “massaging the numbers,” massage fights an uphill battle for respect and acceptance as a health discipline. A professional association has the means to organize effective, favourable public relations campaigns and systematically downplay negative ones. I’d love to see common, consistent messaging generated by massage professional associations across North America in a positive format similar to what physiotherapists and chiropractors enjoy. By pooling resources, these collaborating associations could hire professional marketing firms to format campaigns and/or commission medical illustrators and filmmakers to produce short animations showing the benefits of massage that are easily downloaded from every member’s website. Hiring these services would be prohibitive for an individual practitioner, but professional associations can create marketing campaigns at scalable costs.

Professional associations could invest considerable resources in better positioning the profession in the health-care hierarchy. Currently considered adjunctive health care, massage therapists are in danger of being squeezed out by physiotherapy assistants who have basic massage technique and powerful gatekeeper physiotherapists behind them.

Further, professional associations can create working groups with the training schools to improve quality of graduates; with employers at spas and rehab centres to improve practitioner working conditions; with the regulatory body to ensure professionalism and safety in the public interest; and with local, provincial/state, national and international allied massage professional associations to pursue common goals and remove bureaucratic barriers to collaboration.

There is no doubt insufficient research literacy and capacity in our profession closes doors to opportunities for massage therapists. In Nurturing a Culture of Professionalism and Inquiry (Body Politic, Vol. 5, page 6), Trish Dryden, RMT, MEd, discusses the importance of cultivating research literacy in the profession. She outlines the common challenges of complementary and alternative health care (CAHC) disciplines such as chiropractic, naturopathy, Chinese medicine, homeopathy and massage therapy to “demonstrate safety, efficacy and cost-effectiveness.” Dryden discusses a cross-profession and cross-province initiative to “collaborate and pool human and fiscal resources to meet this challenge.”1 Dryden’s group, the Canadian Interdisciplinary Network for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Research (INCAM) has outlined steps and strategies towards this goal. Imagine the combined might of the complementary and alternative health-care professions to accomplish this goal.

A second way to expand opportunities for members is to create databanks of useful information. I, for one, would like access to abstracts on massage therapy, yes, but also to be able to read studies on the harmful effects of stress, to see statistics on the benefits of workplace wellness programs, to know how many people are affected by work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WRMDs) and read other useful information in a summarized format that is easy to understand.

Give me concise statistics that I can regurgitate to my patients in various ways. Help me create new alliances with local industries by giving me material I can include in onsite presentations for the prevention and treatment of common musculoskeletal problems. It would take me a great deal of time to amass this information for myself, but my professional association can warehouse such useful data and share it with the whole membership. I would find this benefit alone worth the cost of my professional association membership!

The professional association can bring industry leaders to a venue near me; it has the resources and the influence to attract the best. As a practising RMT wanting to expand my expertise, I want to see John Upledger, Paul St. John, Michael Leahy, Jean Pierre Barral, Leon Chaitow, Barry Jenings, Doug Alexander, Cidalia Paiva, Trish Dryden, Pam Fitch, Tom Myers and John Barnes at annual conferences. I want to learn from the masters.

Whatever complaint you may have against your association, you can’t improve your circumstances by whining on the sidelines. Professional associations are the lifeblood of your practice, and without the aforementioned essential functions performed, your business would flail in the open marketplace. Get involved at a committee level, if necessary, to see positive change through.

There really is no excuse not to be a member, and non-members are holding back the resources associations need to accomplish their massive work. Be sure you maintain your membership, and nudge your colleagues to become members too.

Don Dillon, RMT, is the author of Massage Therapist Practice: Start. Sustain. Succeed.,and the self-study workbook Charting Skills for Massage Therapists. Don has lectured in seven Canadian provinces and over 60 of his articles have appeared in massage industry publications in Canada, the United States and Australia. Don is the recipient of several awards from the Ontario Massage Therapist Association, and is one of the founding members of Massage Therapy Radio. He can be reached at

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